Sarfaq Ittuk Coastal Ferry Trip – Day 6

(From 19 August 2012)

Greetings from 69*13’N  51*06’W.

I am now on Day 6 of my eight-day/seven-night adventure on Sarfaq Ittuk, the coastal ferry operated by Arctic Umiaq Line that goes up and down the west coast of Greenland between Qaqortoq in the south and Ilulissat in the north.  We have reached the northernmost town on the line, Ilulissat, which means I have now seen all of the ports on this ship’s route (and consequently, most of the towns on the west coast).  I am quite proud to say that I have officially stepped foot in 16 places in Greenland, covering all five regions except for the National Park!  Of course, most of these were for quite short periods of time – a couple of hours at most – but I have at least gotten an initial impression of them.

This has absolutely been an amazing experience because it has been so educational on so many levels, and I would recommend it to every person that comes to Greenland!  The most important thing about this trip for me is that I have seen REAL Greenland.  There are, of course, many interpretations of this term, but any time I have heard Greenlanders using it, they are juxtaposing a town to Nuuk.  So I think for Greenlanders it is all about the level of Danish influence.  Also, for me it is related to the level of tourism influence.  For example, a town like Ilulissat may not have a lot of Danish aspects, but the presence of tourists and businesses that cater to tourists does have an impact on the authenticity of the town.

I suppose I sound a bit hypocritical talking negatively about tourism when here I am trying to make a career out of the industry!  But, in my defense, I am concentrating on Sustainable Destination Management, so it is my concern to think critically about the negative effects of tourism on a local community.  Having now seen Greenlandic towns where tourism is in its infancy yet growing, I am inspired to help keep tourism’s negative impact to a minimum and preserve REAL Greenland.

The other thing about this trip that has contributed to my REAL Greenland experience is being in such close contact with the locals.  I realized after the first couple of days that this was so impactful because it was the most I had ever heard the Greenlandic language spoken.  In Nuuk, I really only hear it for a second on the city bus or passing people in conversation on the sidewalk.  Otherwise, I hear Danish at home with my host family as well as at work 99% of the time.  It was a reality check and a little embarrassing to realize that yes, I see Greenlanders every day and live in their country, but no, I never really interact with them for extended periods of time.  Sailing on Sarfaq Ittuk gave me that opportunity.  I met quite a lot of the staff and also passengers.  One woman in particular was very nice and struck up a conversation with me; her name was Magga-Rose.  We even exchanged phone numbers so that we can meet up in Nuuk some time.  Also, the Ship Guide, Linda, from Ilulissat has become a good friend, and I hope to keep in contact with her, too!  I definitely wish I had done this a long time ago!

A final stream of consciousness about REAL Greenland – how would the Greenlanders in Nuuk feel basically being called “Fake Greenland” by comparison?  Perhaps the older members who have moved to Nuuk from elsewhere do not take too much offense, but what about the younger generations who are born and raised in Nuuk?  I wonder, is there any discrimination between people from Nuuk and people from the rest of the country?  It is interesting to consider this sentiment in terms of the only other country that I have lived in and know well – the United States.  There is regional pride in the United States, but unfortunately, I think that conviction and level of identity only comes with political allegiance.

The second most important thing about this trip for me is that I have seen a range of community sizes in Greenland.  As I mentioned earlier, I have seen sixteen locations throughout the country thanks to this trip and the Taste of Greenland trip.  I really feel now that I have quite a good overall impression of the inhabited portions of Greenland.  I have seen extremely small settlements such as Oqaatsut with 40 residents… small settlements such as Qeqertarsuatsiaat, Kangaamiut, and Arsuk with less than 500 residents… towns such as Uummannaq, Aasiaat, Maniitsoq, Paamiut, Narsaq, and Qaqortoq with 1,000 – 3,000 or so residents… airport towns such as Qaarsut, Kangerlussuaq, and Kulusuk… larger towns such as Ilulissat and Sisimiut with 5,000 residents… and of course, the big city of Nuuk with 16,000 residents.

Sarfaq Ittuk Coastal Ferry Trip – Day 2

(From 15 August 2012)

Greetings from 60*43’20”N  46*02’25” W.

I am on Day 2 of my eight-day/seven-night adventure on Sarfaq Ittuk, the coastal ferry operated by Arctic Umiaq Line that goes up and down the west coast of Greenland between Qaqortoq in the south and Ilulissat in the north.  We have reached the southernmost town on the line, Qaqortoq.  The whole trip from end to end is actually only 80 hours (3 nights) but I am doing the equivalent of two full trips.  My itinerary is:

  •  Tuesday 14 August at 13.00 – board ferry in Nuuk (middle point, headed southbound)
  • Wednesday 15 August at 23.59 – arrive in Qaqortoq (southernmost point)
  • Thursday 16 August at 07.00 – depart Qaqortoq (headed northbound)
  • Sunday 19 August at 13.00 – arrive in Ilulissat (northernmost point)
  • Sunday 19 August at 16.30 – depart Ilulissat (headed southbound)
  • Tuesday 21 August at 07.30 – disembark ferry in Nuuk

I am on board Sarfaq Ittuk to conduct interviews with tourists so this is a business trip, but as this is a brand new experience for me (like almost everything else in Greenland), it is hard not to have fun while doing it!  Every five minutes I look out the window and see something that I want to run up to the deck to photograph!

For instance, this morning it was foggy almost the whole way from Paamiut to Arsuk, but in Greenland even the fog can be captivating!  In the morning, I stood on deck at the back of the ship for close to an hour because I simply could not pull myself away.  The only word to describe the feeling was eerie!  I was the only one out there, and the fog was so thick and enveloping that you could hardly see 100 meters (300 feet or so) past the ship.  You certainly could not see land even though it was just right there!  The only sounds were the constant hum of the ship and the rhythmic sloshing of the waves.  Sarfaq Ittuk means the sound the current makes against the boat, so I would say the ship has the perfect name!  Every now and then a large iceberg would go silently by, although most were very small and almost transparent, as if only a few more hours needed to pass before they melted and disappeared completely.  The best part about the morning was a fantastic fog bow over the water.  Now, I have been told a time or two that I have a wild imagination, but I couldn’t help getting lost in a daydream while standing out on the deck.  I was one of the last humans on the planet, and there was just the water, the fog, and the fog bow.  And me!  There was no concept of time or space or anything, and I was not specifically on a boat or in the water.  I was just… there.

This whole experience of life on a ship and coming into ports that I have never seen before makes me feel a little bit like an explorer from a time past!  What must the Icelandic Vikings and other explorers have thought when they saw Greenland for the first time?  When they discovered that people lived all along the coast here?  I must admit that it was a cruise tourist who said something in an interview to make me think about this perspective.  He said that he prefers to see a country for the first time by ship rather than by airplane because it is a different understanding.  He could not quite articulate what he wanted to say, but I think he must have shared my same sentiment of exploration!

My room on Sarfaq Ittuk is very nice; I have my own personal Cabin on the third deck close to the Café Sarfaq.  It is quite like a simple hotel room but with a more efficient use of space.  This is a ship, after all!  When I first walked into the room, I had a strong sense of nostalgia.  The room felt just like the cabins on the Amtrak Auto Train that I took several times as a child with my family between Northern Virginia and Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  As a child, the first thing I wanted to do on the train was see what was behind every door, flick all the switches, and test all the features!  I had to resist the urge to do all of that when I got on board Sarfaq Ittuk!  The beds stow during the day to create a nice seating area; there is a little table for playing cards as well as a desk; the bathroom is compact but functional; and there are multiple electrical outlets and even wireless internet for purchase!  All in all, not the worst way to spend seven nights!